29 January 1999

Union Jack burnt as pig farmers anger boils over

By FW reporters

ANGRY farmers burnt a Union Jack flag outside Downing Street during their weekend protest against imports of cut-price pigmeat produced under conditions illegal in this country.

The pig farmers claim they are being driven out of business by imported pigmeat which is often produced cheaply with little regard for animal welfare.

About 2000 producers and their families marched through London in what was largely a peaceful protest. But anger boiled over among some protesters as their leaders delivered a letter to 10 Downing Street begging the Prime Minister for help. Those towards the front of the crowd cheered as two farmers doused a Union Jack in lighter fluid and set it on fire.

"Tony Blair is anti-British, he has done nothing for us," shouted Suffolk pig farmer Chris Agar. "This is the last peaceful march. After this we will be even more militant."

To chants of "Tony Blair, you dont care", the marchers then continued to Trafalgar Square, where they held a rally beneath Nelsons column.

Stewart Houston, chairman of organisers the British Pig Industry Support Group, told the protesters: "We deserve a government which understands us and realises the effort that has gone into what we produce." Farmers want the government to persuade caterers and supermarkets to buy British pigmeat, and import supplies only if they meet British standards.

After the march, Danish pig industry bosses hit back at claims that they were driving British farmers out of business by producing cut-price pigmeat with little regard for animal welfare.

A statement from the Danish Bacon and Meat Council insisted that Danish pigmeat for export was produced to exemplary food safety and animal welfare standards.

In response to customers requests, the use of meat and bonemeal was banned for pigs supplied under contract for export to the UK. And an initiative was launched last October to end the use of stalls and tethers for such animals.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents all the main supermarkets, also defended its members, insisting that retailers would continue to support UK pig farmers "who can produce a quality product at a price that the consumer is willing to pay".

The BRC pointed out that consumer demand for leaner meat meant as little as 22% of a pig ended up on supermarket shelves. Despite that, the retail price of pork had fallen – down 17% in November compared with 1997. &#42